The experienced sales team at Rodale, the publisher behind Men’s Health, Prevention and Runner’s World, sells most of its print and digital ad inventory direct.
“They fluctuate between 70% and 100% sell-through,” said Diego Sanchez, executive director of digital programmatic and strategic partnerships, who leads a team of five.
Due to the high level of direct sales, programmatic accounts for just 10-15% of digital revenue. The real value of programmatic for a publisher like Rodale is to support direct sales efforts by opening more conversations between the sales team and buyers.
“We have an opportunity to drive clients up the value chain,” Sanchez said. “If they are trying to buy inventory on the open market, they probably are not getting enough supply, so they should enter through a private marketplace. If they aren’t getting enough there, maybe they should think about direct.”
Rodale also keeps track of all buyers of its inventory on the open exchange, and uses that behavior as a conversation starter about direct campaigns with brands.
“We focused on structuring programmatic to capture supply, and almost be a lead list for the sales team,” Sanchez said.
But Rodale is also seeing opportunities as agencies shift to centralized planning of programmatic and direct campaigns. Rodale can sell direct and programmatic in one conversation.
“That’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed more this year,” Sanchez said.
In those scenarios, his programmatic team serves as the product experts for programmatic and lead conversations about data, for example.
“Clients are looking for more than just media, and we have great data,” he added.
Rodale uses a data management platform to organize information about its readers, which it uses to sell products and for its advertisers.
“We have a significant direct marketing business, where we sell products, DVDs, coconut oil – everything across the board,” said COO Beth Buehler.
Because it sells products on its own ad space, it knows how certain ad placements perform and how to tweak its pages so ads “yield the higher value,” she said.
Because Rodale views programmatic as a way to feed its direct business, it’s halved the number of partners it works with over the past year. That decision reduced reporting burdens and page load times, which boosted revenue. Yield rose 50% year over year, and 15% so far this year.
Up next, Rodale is exploring header bidding. But because it often sells out its inventory, it wants to deploy it with a twist: Rodale is testing solutions with an “off” switch for periods where the tech would be pointless.